My Journey Back to Health & Where I Am Now

I’ve had a lot of requests for more information on food, but I realize a lot of newer readers may not even know my story at all.

My Story

For a little recap, I used to eat like crap. I’m talking, 3 or 4 Cokes a day, lots of pizza, chips, sweets, and I had a bit of a love affair with Mickey D’s quarter pounders with cheese.

It wasn’t because of my upbringing. My mom raised me right. In fact, she was “granola crunchy” before it was cool. When we were in middle school and high school, she relaxed a bit. There was some junk food in the house, but not a ton, and she still cooked most of our meals from scratch.

It was when I went to college that my diet went to pot and I started living on pizza and drinking Coke like it was water. I gained 20 pounds, and my IBS, which I’d always struggled with, went a little bit crazy. But I was a stupid kid and thought it was just the way I’m made and I had to live with it.

I got my weight under control my senior year when I joined Jenny Craig, and I managed it for years with what I not-so-fondly call my “binge-and-starve” approach to dieting. I was thin, but not healthy.

After my third child, my health fell apart. I had some really weird episodes that landed me in the ER. I would feel hot and dizzy and then get extremely sick to my stomach with terrible IBS-like cramping. Then I’d get cold and eventually pass out. It would end with the chills and a nasty outbreak of hives. It was so strange.

I made the rounds to all the specialists and no one could ever tell me what caused it. I was, however, diagnosed with hypothyroidism, gastritis, GERD, and IBS (officially; I had always just assumed IBS is what I had.)

I ended up on Nexium for gastritis, Synthroid for my thyroid, and Ativan for anxiety attacks that were rare but crippling at times.

Once I had to get off a plane just before takeoff because I didn’t have my Ativan with me, and I was having a minor freak-out episode. I was a pretty messed up lady.

Of course, I knew my diet was crappy. We all hear studies about organic foods being healthier and all sorts of information on food, but it always seemed too complex and overwhelming, so I would just shove it all to the back of my mind and grab another Coke.

My Real Food Conversion

Then I happened to pick up a copy of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Suddenly everything made sense and seemed so simple.

Eat real food. The end.

Of course it is much more complicated than that, but that is the gist. Factory created food is not really food, and it doesn’t nourish our bodies the way real food does.

Suffice it to say, this opened up a whole new world for me. I immediately started cleaning out my kitchen and replacing the boxes and bags with real foods, making snacks and bread from scratch, and cooking better meals for my family.

I eventually got myself off Nexium and Ativan, started exercising, went gluten-free, and now my gastritis and IBS are pretty much GONE.

It was such a slow improvement that sometimes I forget how sick I was and how debilitating those stomach aches were. Since I didn’t know exactly what was causing them, I couldn’t avoid them.

There were days that I’d have to lay down and spend a few hours on the couch waiting for it to pass. I lost so much time from work and my kids. They were used to it and knew not to bother mommy while I was having one of my stomach aches.

It is crazy to me how sick I was for much of my life. Of course, I didn’t know I was sick. I just thought that’s the way it was.

That, to me, is what is so upsetting about the modern industrial food system we have created — everyone thinks we’re just fine; meanwhile we’re on all sorts of meds for all sorts of problems. That is not the way it’s supposed to be.

I’ve also learned to maintain my weight without binging and starving. Again, it’s been such a gradual process that I almost forget how obsessed with food and dieting I used to be.

This experience spawned a flurry of blog posts as I learned all about eating real food the best way possible. Some people thought I went off the deep end and told me so, but many appreciated those posts and keep asking for more.

Like me, a lot of you are probably too overwhelmed to delve into the research yourself, but when someone else does it for you and breaks it down in manageable chunks and basically tells you how to eat well in the real world, you’re likely to give it a shot. That is my hope, anyway.

Here’s the sad thing about the whole real food/whole foods/organic movement. It has sort of become the next chapter in the Mommy Wars.

When my kids were little, there was tension between working moms and stay-at-home moms. And the breast feeding vs. bottle feeding crowds. And co-sleeping vs scheduling. And on and on. There’s always something, right?

Today it’s food.

Let’s not let food choices divide us, okay??

I get it. No one wants to be told they are feeding their kids crap. Of course that puts people on the defensive. I don’t believe the mom next door loves her kids less because she keeps Pop Tarts in the pantry. I really don’t.

And I certainly don’t think I’m doing everything right. 

We all make choices based on the knowledge that we have, do what we can, and let go of the rest. Very few people go whole-hog and ditch all industrial foods to grow and make their own.

Most of us have to pick and choose what we feel we can do while maintaining the lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves in this modern society. And sometimes those choices ebb and flow, based on the season of life we’re in.

I never set out to become a homesteader. I envy those who can because I think that they’re probably healthier than I am, but it’s not in the cards for me.

I’m planning to stay right here in my cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood with my kids in public school and my little internet writing job keeping me busy, so I do what I can to feed my family as much real food as possible without completely changing our way of life.

So with that, here’s where I am right now.

Where I Am Now

At first, I went gung-ho, making granola bars and homemade bread and big breakfasts every day. Predictably, that eventually got old.

Now I buy organic granola bars and organic bread and organic cereal (oh, yes, how the mighty have fallen . . . I once wrote a post on why I don’t buy breakfast cereal and how they are devoid of any nourishment — and I still think that is true, but I’m too tired to fight it right now. Maybe next year…)

I still make homemade dinners the majority of the time, but we definitely do more pizza takeout than we did there for a while.

I used to make my rounds to all the local farms for homegrown meats and dairy products, but now I buy most of that at the grocery store. I’m fortunate we do have a nice whole foods market that sells a lot of local products, but it is a lot more $$$$ to buy it that way, so I go back and forth. We did the CSA for the 2nd year in a row, but I miss that in the winter months.

My goal for 2014 is to get back on track, closer to where I was when I started out. If I could do it then, I can do it now, right??

But I’m also giving myself a break if I just can’t seem to be that committed to the homemade everything at this stage in my life with the kids’ busy schedules and my own writing career growing.

I think good health is important, for sure. But it’s not the ONLY thing, ya know? We do what we can.

So, What??

What I really want people to come away with is this: What we eat matters.

We aren’t all going to do it the same way, but if you are not healthy, on unnecessary medications, and have debilitating health problems, I encourage you to take some time to consider your diet. Don’t assume that’s just the way life has to be.

Not that diet is the end all, be all. There is certainly a place for medications, but they shouldn’t be our first line of defense.

And I believe in doing what we can to teach our children good eating habits.

Again, I realize this will look different to different people. We all have to start where are and do the best we can with what we’ve been given. But don’t we owe it to them to at least try to be better?? To give them a chance at a healthy life? I think so.

So I will keep writing about the topic, maybe not as consistently as I once did, but I don’t want to let all those posts get buried and forgotten because there is a lot of helpful information in there.

I hope it inspires some of you to make some changes today. Even small changes are better than no changes at all.

Join The Conversation

21 Responses

  1. Funny, last year when we were on vacation I read about making the transition to whole foods. My son gained a ton of weight in the year before, had lifetime issues with constipation and was on medications and had started with some skin related issues. I am convinced it is ALL food related. We weren’t eating very healthy. We starting making some changes in our diets – buying organic from local farms and Whole Foods, incorporating more fruits and vegetables, trying to make more from scratch (ie waffles) and even with the small changes we made, he came off his stomach medication easily. With the holidays we kind of fell off but are getting back to it in the new year. THanks for this post, I will be reading the others!!

  2. I am one of your cheerleaders – you kicked off MY journey to healthier eating and I went right along with you. I cannot thank you enough for being one of the ‘normal moms’ out there blogging about this back then. I too got the ‘oh there she goes off the deep end’ looks from friends. Glad to say 2 years later my health has never been better. Keep up the great work!

  3. I just love your site I really look forward to reading your posts every week. I to have gone through ups and downs with my health my main problem has been hypothyroidism I was also taking synthroid but it was not working for me then I came across a compounding pharmacy and was put on nature thyroid this turned my life around thru this and a diet of real foods I am feeling better everyday .. Another great site about what we eat and the food industry is foodbabe.com she is really interesting it is amazing when you start reading about all the chemicals and gmos in our food no wonder people have a ton of illnesses..

    1. I also went off synthroid. I was on armour thyroid for a while and now I’m not even taking that. I am lazy, mainly. I probably need it but I am surviving okay without. I guess I should look into the possible ramifications of not taking it… I hope I’m not jeopardizing my health, but I hate to be on meds if I don’t truly need them.

  4. I agree. Whole, real food is the way to go but why does it have to be so hard? I could easily spend a whole day in the kitchen making all the food that my family eats. It was so overwhelming. So now we’re somewhere in the middle. I will never buy margarine again, yuck! Or vegetable oil, but don’t even mess with my sugar, ha! How would I make all my yummy baked goods? I try to buy organic when I can but sometimes I can’t bring myself to pay the prices. The budget only goes so far….We do plant a garden but that is a lot of work and I’m not the best at keeping up with it. Anyway, it is encouraging to know other people struggle with it.

  5. I LOVED this post. It was honest, real, and also passionate without being judgy. Well-done.

    What I found interesting/strange/odd is that one of the ads that showed up in my email as I was reading this post was an advocacy ad for Americans for Food & Beverage Choice, which seems to advocate unlimited serving sizes, no labels or limits, which seems contradictory to this post.

    I would guess that you’re politically more conservative than I am, but this ad made me wince.
    (I don’t know how much control you have over your ads.)

    I am also interested to get Colleen’s take on feeding a family and making choices between health, convenience and a budget. Would she consider a post on her kitchen?

    1. I have no control over the ads. Especially the ones in the email. The ones here on the site, I can go in and block certain ones that I don’t like, but I don’t always see what you guys see so it’s hard to get rid of all the offensive ones. 🙁

      I’ll see what Colleen thinks about writing a post about that.

  6. I also think food is going to be the new mommy wars. Last summer my husband and I did a month long no processed foods challenge. And while most of the feedback was positive, I had so many people take it personally that we weren’t eating processed foods. I just ignored them. We decided to do the challenge again and we starte today. I learned so muh last time and I made two permanent changes to our diets that I think made a big difference. Small steps right?

  7. This post is perfect timing for me! After eating so much crap this holiday season I decide try the Paleo way of eating for a couple of weeks. I started Jan. 1st and I’m already down 5 pounds! However, it’s not all about the weight loss. I need to do this for my health. I love food (especially sugar) so I know I just need to find a balance. Getting my husband and kids on board will be challenging but worth the effort. Keep these posts coming!

    1. I keep saying I want to eat Paleo but I can never quite get myself on it consistently. I really like my grains. But I know it would help me feel better. I tend to carry my weight in my middle, and I know getting off carbs and sugar would help that A TON.

  8. I agree and like to read these posts. when my kids ask for junk food at the store we read the ingredient list together and discuss it. Usually it helps because they don’t want to eat chemicals. I have made homemade pop tarts and goldfish crackers but like you said it only lasts so long because it is time consuming to prepare healthy food vs. boxed food. I appreciate your truthfulness. Just because we may not want to hear what we are eating is crap it doesn’t mean it is not true. I prefer the truth and understand we all have budget constraints and do our best.

  9. Thanks for sharing some of your favorite blogs the past few days. P.S I love your blog so many great ideas and resources

  10. I have Crohn’s Disease so I completely understand your tummy troubles. I am making the transition to eating healthier, but due to the crohn’s it has to be done in baby steps. I tried to completely change my diet all at once in the past…but tons of fruit and veggies all at once and bowel disease do not mix. My biggest step was ditching my addition to Coke. I drank the stuff all day, morning to night! It was tough, I swear it was the hardest thing I have ever given up. I still look longingly at my beverage of choice in the grocery store, but I tell myself “its not that you can’t have the Coke, you are choosing not to have it”. I have tried to make other little changes like olive oil instead of veg oil, making myself “real” lunches instead of lean cuisine, making homemade bread, and trying my best to make a homemade dinner at least 5 of 7 nights per week. I recently have gotten ambitious and planted a mini indoor garden (I live in the frozen tundra of northeast Ohio). Its wonderful that your health problems improved so greatly with the changes you made, you are a great inspiration to all of us fellow tummy trouble sufferers.

  11. Ack, my operator error caused me to lose my first comment.

    I think what i said was: wow I’ve been reading you a long time because I remember when you posted about In defense of food (I also remember when you drank coke 🙂 ) and turned me to Kelly Kitchen Kop.

    I didn’t realize you struggled with anxiety at all, and certainly not to the lengths you share above. I have had my battles with it as well. There was a time I couldn’t even have boarded a flight, let alone STAYED on the flight. That lasted about a year. I don’t react well to anti-anxiety meds or really meds at all (lucky me), so I used talk therapy which was great but WOW a LOT of work.

    I have all but left western medicine in the past 6 month. I was struggling with my health something terrible. Went to bedridden at one point – my adrenals are burned out due to peri-menopause and hormones not being treated for over a year. I went through my GP, an OBGYN (who only wanted to put me on birth control… uhm, NO!) and an endocrinologist and got WORSE under their care.

    I finally found a compound pharmacist in November, who worked with me (naturopaths are 4 hours away) and I did a saliva test and she got me on the right supplements to fix my hormone deficiencies and severely burned out adrenals. In less than 2 weeks I was out of bed and returning slowly to my old self. It’ll be a 2 year process to a full recovery. I’m disgusted at myself for trusting the medical community to do right by someone when they say “I’m so tired I can’t get out of bed” and laying in the back of our SUV (on the floor!!) to get to these specialists 2 hours away because I was SO EXHAUSTED.

    Do you still take synthroid? I finally found a doctor who would order a lab test for me to get a Free T3 and Free T4 test because they don’t believe I am getting enough T3 from Synthroid. This is such a long process when the Thyroid, adrenals, DHEA, progesterone, testosterone are deficient and estrogen is excessive.

    Wow, I bet you didn’t want to know all that did you? Oh well, you know me…. I’m gunna tell ya anyway. 🙂

    1. Of course I want to know all that! I haven’t been treating my thyroid. I was on synthroid, then armour thyroid, and then I just ran out and never refilled it. I don’t know if that is stupid or not. I’m glad you’re getting the help you need. I am very tired – I sleep a lot, but I don’t know if that’s just my natural rhythm or if I have adrenal fatigue. I choose to ignore it. 🙂

      1. HA! Well good! 😛

        I think you’ll know if your thyroid gets wonky. I doubt you have adrenal fatigue, you wouldn’t be able to exercise at all without a two day sleep fest. I miss run/walking the most. It helped so many things. It’s just not doable right now. So I do small things that I pray add up to bigger things sooner than I am anticipating. And of course with adrenal fatigue comes weight gain. Not just a little weight either, like 30 pounds of weight that comes on in 3-4 months and won’t be no matter what you do. It’s the second most ridiculous thing I’ve experienced (anxiety tops it).

        Thanks for reading my ramblings. 🙂 And thanks for leading the way on this food journey. I know I stayed upright for longer than most in my condition simply due to food choices.

        OH and did I mention I have a gluten, egg, dairy, soy, corn and peanut intolerance? Basically I am down to ditch weed. I’m fun to have over for dinner.

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